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Comprehensive Examination

You must pass formal, comprehensive written and oral examinations before being Admitted to Candidacy for the PhD. These examinations are administered by your Advisory Committee.

The written Comprehensive Examination, although administered by the Advisory Committee, is prepared and graded according to the procedures and policies given in this section. The oral Comprehensive Examination is an inclusive examination within your field of study. An examination of your dissertation prospectus (proposal) takes place on a date after the oral Comprehensive Examination and may not take the place of the oral Comprehensive Examination. All members of your Advisory Committee must be present simultaneously for the oral examination and prospectus (proposal) presentation.

The oral Comprehensive Examination is open to all members of the faculty and shall be announced by the Graduate School. The Graduate Coordinator must notify the Graduate School of the time and place of the examination at least two weeks before the date of the examination.

Following each of the written and oral examinations, each member of the advisory committee will cast a written vote of pass or fail on the examination. To pass each examination, the agreement of the Advisory Committee is achieved with no more than one dissenting vote. An abstention is not an appropriate vote for the Comprehensive Examination. The results of both examinations will be reported to the Graduate School within two weeks following the oral examination.

Grade Requirement

You are required to achieve at least a B+ average grade (3.3 GPA) in the Second-Year core courses. Failure to meet this requirement will result in a remedial measure to be imposed by your Advisory Committee. The choice of remedial measure is at the discretion of the Advisory Committee but could involve retaking a course, completing an independent study or assignment in the area of deficiency.

Any remediation must be completed before you begin the Comprehensive Examination.


The Comprehensive Examination is taken after completing the Second-Year core courses. If you are required to remediate, then you must complete the prescribed remedial measures before taking your Comprehensive Examination.

Typically, your Comprehensive Examination should be undertaken during the Summer or Fall following the completion of your Second-Year core coursework, but no later than the end of the Spring semester beyond finishing the Second-Year core. You are expected to have made substantial progress on the relevant literature review, although it is not necessary for you to have any novel results nor even a specific research proposal. The Comprehensive Exam is separate from the dissertation proposal and must be completed prior to the presentation of the proposal.

Parts, Scope and Time Allowed

To begin the Comprehensive Examinations, you and your major professor notify the Graduate Coordinator that you are ready, and you call a meeting of your Advisory Committee. At that meeting, you give a short presentation (15 minutes) and/or write- up (1 or 2 pages) of your area of research. Also at that meeting, the Advisory Committee will discuss your record and whether any remediation is warranted.

The Comprehensive Examination must consist of two parts: one written, and one oral. Both parts of the exam are formulated and administered by your dissertation Advisory Committee.

The written portion of the exam is administered over a period of several days or perhaps as much as four weeks. Typically, each committee member in turn poses questions to you, and these questions are answered in written format. The topics to be examined include:

  1. The PhD core courses with emphasis on the second year core;
  2. Coursework outside of the core that is particularly relevant to your intended research area (including relevant material taught outside the department, conceivably); and
  3. The existing literature related to your intended research area.

The Oral portion of the exam follows the Written portion. Committee members may examine you on the topics listed above, including, but not limited to, follow- up questions related to the written portion of the exam. There is no time limit for this portion of the exam, but it typically takes 1-3 hours. All committee members must be present for this exam.

You must notify the Graduate Coordinator, who must then notify the Graduate School, of the time, date and location of the Oral Comprehensive Examination at least two weeks in advance.


Your PhD Advisory Committee has responsibility for evaluating your performance on the Comprehensive Exam. In accordance with Graduate School rules, each committee member assigns pass/fail grades separately for the written and oral portions of the exam. You must pass both the oral and written portions with no more than one “fail” vote in each case.   Subject to the committee’s discretion, passing grades may be assigned conditional on remedial measures to address a particular area of weakness. For example, you may be required to complete additional coursework and/or directed reading. In the case that you fail either the oral or written components, you may re-attempt either component(s) one time. Failure of either component more than once will result in your being dismissed from the PhD program.

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